Qatar’s Emir Cup, the Gulf state’s premier soccer league tournament, has won sponsorship from multinationals Shell and Sony as well as Sony’s local distributor, East 51.
The three-year deal with Sony and East 51 and the renewal of the agreement with Shell signal an increasing trend in Middle East soccer to professionalize and commercialize.
The trend is fuelled by Qatar’s winning of the hosting of the 2022 World Cup, the world’s largest sporting event, as well as financial troubles as a result of the mass-anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East and North Africa and insistence by world soccer body FIFA become financially self-sufficient by 2013.
“We at QFA share common underlying value with Fifty One East and the objective to turn the Emir’s Cup into an iconic football tournament that demonstrates the passion of the Qatari population for sports,” Qatar Football Association president Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Thani said in a statement.
Many Gulf states suffer from low attendance because they cater exclusively to local nationals at the expense of the expatriate population. In a first effort to change that paradigm, Al Jazira FC of Abu Dhabi has rolled out a program targeting expatriates that offers them football as well as entertainment. As a result, Al Jazira has seen match attendance rise from several thousand to 20,000, among the highest attendance figures in the Gulf according to CEO Phil Anderton.
The annual Emir Cup pits 16 first and second division teams against each other in knockout fashion. This year’s tournament runs through May 21. Four-time winners Al Rayyan are the defending champions.
The Emir Cup as well as Qatar’s Heir Apparent Cup have also won sponsorship from the Gulf state’s Al Emadi Enterprises Company. Earlier, sports apparel brand Nike agreed to become the official kit supplier of the Qatari national team.